“If you ain’t pissed off for greatness, that means you’re okay with being mediocre.” – Ray Lewis
By Ellora Israni (Co-Founder, she++)
It’s extremely hard to sit down and write a blog post when you’re not entirely sure that what you have to say is interesting or relevant or even remotely helpful to the rest of the world. You feel kind of like an impostor, like everything you say can and will be used against you.
I spent a lot of time on Thought Catalog and Buzzfeed avoiding my text editor in the last couple days. Until it occurred to me that this is the exact same apprehension I experience almost every day at work, and that maybe this paralyzing fear of failure is precisely what I should write about. So here goes.
Long story short: I’m a computer science major at Stanford University. I’ve been in the program for about a year – absolutely loving it – and summer 2012 marks my first real foray into Silicon Valley. I’m interning at a tech startup in downtown Palo Alto – also absolutely loving it, but more on that soon. I tend to spend a fair amount of time baking scones, painting my nails and watching Grey’s Anatomy. So again, long story short, I’m as much a girl as I am a geek.
Some wonderful women have shared some wonderful wisdom with me over the past year. But I can speak to the fact that you won’t really know the full scope of being a woman in tech until you’re thrown into the field, with the jargon flying past faster than you can fathom. A lot of what you’ve heard is absolutely valid: three monitors, 10am to midnight, and socks and sandals are the norm. The stereotypes are true.
Yes, I said it, I am surrounded by total nerds – people who get excited about garbage collection and heap usage and Flash vs HTML5. And, on the inside, I am one of those nerds (case in point: I’m writing this post on Vim because I’m a lot more familiar with that than TextEdit). We all validate the stereotype of nerds fascinated by things that most of the population finds nauseating.
But computer scientists have a lot more in common than a set of fabulous screen tans. We tend to be detail-oriented perfectionists, obsessive problem-solvers, and passionate about our product. A la Ray Lewis, we’re pretty damn pissed off for greatness.
I am absolutely honored to work with the people I do, but I feel like such an impostor placing myself in their league. I believe I am out-smarted, out-worked, and out-accomplished on a daily basis. I often question whether the hours I spent as a girl – playing with dolls, watching rom-coms – were wasted.
My co-workers spent their childhoods becoming better technologists, better nerds. Will I ever appreciate myself as a part of this exclusive community, or will I always be catching up? I have to keep reminding myself there is a reason I’m here, that they have not yet caught on :).
But as a woman in tech, I am continually caught in that paradox of stereotypes.
I hope those musings resonate with some other female technologists out there. I expose those weaknesses to the world not because I’m asking you to cut me some slack, or for your pity, but because I hope that they convince you to trust me.
Just like I trust Marissa Mayer, Yahoo!’s new CEO who once confided to me that she too got through Stanford fueled by dozens of energy drinks in the Gates basement.
Or Pinterest engineer Tracy Chou, who mentioned at she++ that she asked her professor three times if he had made an “off-by-one error in his spreadsheet” because she’s “Asian and has kind of a generic name” or if he really did want her to TA his class.
Or Facebook Director of Engineering Jocelyn Goldfein, who reminded me to ignore the “same eight internet trolls who make the same eight comments” on every online post regarding women in technology (yes, Internet trolls, I’ve caught on to your ways and am expecting your comments here as well).
So I hope you can trust me when I tell you this nerdy stereotype (the one I’ve been validating all along) is just a small part of the picture. It’s superficial – like everybody has this dorky side, but they’re also pretty multidimensional. I owe much of the laughter, the happiness, and the memories I’ve experienced this summer to my co-workers. Together, we’ve perfected our foam hearts atop morning lattes, attempted the Saltine challenge way too many times, and hiked through the Bay Area.
Being a woman in technology is more rewarding – socially and technically – than I can possibly convey. And I know it will be hard for you to really, truly get this until you yourself are in the thick of it. That is completely okay; I just hope you trust me enough to try.
I can honestly say that my co-workers have welcomed me into one the best communities I have ever experienced (and, just for that, I’m sure I’ll get plenty of flack if they ever read this post :).
They have taught me once-and-for-all that an industry that is reputedly devoid of human virtues is actually brimming with life and love and laughter. And that is why I aspire to be as dorky, as nerdy, and as pissed off for greatness, as they are.
Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.
About the guest blogger: Ellora Israni is a Co-Founder of she++, Stanford’s first conference on women in tech, and a Computer Science major at Stanford University. Ellora and her co-founder Ayna Agarwal are recruiting interviewees for a documentary on women in technology, and would love your nominations for women who inspire you! Share your nominees at sheplusplus.stanford.edu or tweet at @sheplusplus.